Welcome to the News & Reviews section here at Doctor Who Online! This is where you will find all the latest Doctor Who related news and reviews split up into easy to use sections - each section is colour coded for your convenience. The latest items can be found at the top, and older items follow down the page.

Archived news and reviews can be accessed by clicking on the relevant area on the News / Reviews Key panels to the right.

E-Mail NewsE-Mail Reviews
15 August 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Jonathan Morris and John Dorney

RRP: £30.00 (CD) / £25.00 (Download)

Release Date: August 2014

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 15th August 2014

Psychodrome

“Shortly after surviving the perils of Logopolis, Castrovalva and the machinations of the Master, the new Doctor and his new crew could be forgiven for wanting to take a breather from their tour of the galaxy. But when the TARDIS lands in a strange and unsettling environment, the urge to explore is irresistible... and trouble is only a few steps away. 

The world they have found themselves in is populated by a wide variety of the strangest people imaginable - a crashed spacecraft here, a monastery there, even a regal court. And not everyone they meet has their best interests at heart. 

With the TARDIS stolen, and the very environment itself out to get them, the travellers face an extremely personal threat. They'll have to work as a team if they want to get out alive... but can you really trust someone you barely know?”

Iterations of I

“The house on Fleming's Island had been left to rot. Ever since a strange and unexplained death soon after it was built, and plagued with troubling rumours about what lurked there, it remained empty and ignored for decades until the Cult moved in. As twenty people filled its many rooms, the eerie building seemed to be getting a new lease of life.

But now it is empty again. The cult found something in its corridors... and then vanished.

Trapped on the island one dark night, the Doctor, Tegan, Nyssa and Adric look into the building's mysteries, its stories of madness and death. Their only chance is to understand what terrible thing has been disturbed here... before it consumes them utterly.”

***

It feels like it’s been a long time coming: the return of Davison’s original TARDIS crew.  We’ve had new companions come and go, extended time with Nyssa and Peri, and some solo jaunts for Doctor Number Five, but now we’re able to go right back to where it all started, and it really does feel like a pleasant trip down memory lane: Tegan! Nyssa! Adric! The roll call trips off the tongue and by the time the first episode has finished, you find yourself wondering if you haven’t actually heard this crew reunited on audio before, so familiar is the set-up and so at ease are the actors at slipping back into these roles.  It’s a real pleasure to have them back.

This box set comprises two four-part adventures, Psychodrome and the beautifully pretentious-sounding Iterations of I.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, a lot of my focus upon listening to the first play at least was on Matthew Waterhouse, reprising Adric for the first time for Big Finish.  I’m not going to retroactively lie here and pretend I think Waterhouse is the greatest actor the show ever saw (though he is far from the worst) and I have always maintained that as a character, Adric worked very well with the Fourth Doctor and not so well with the Fifth.  However, Psychodrome goes some way into readdressing both of these things for me.

Time has been very kind to Waterhouse and quite simply, the performance he gives here across these two plays is the best he’s ever given us as Adric.  He is undoubtedly helped by a script which plays to all of the individual characters’ strengths, but that aside, he carries a weight and depth to his role that he either did not get the chance to show us on screen, or perhaps could not due to age.  Whatever the case, he is fantastic across this box set, never more so though than in Psychodrome, where Adric lets his mask slip and shows us that he has a deep and desperate need to prove himself to everyone, hinting at his fate in but a few stories’ time.  Sometimes, knowledge of future stories can slightly harm the drama as we know that everything is going to be alright, but in this case, it is knowing the tragedy of Adric which brings things to life.  Quite simply put, we feel extraordinarily sorry for him.

Back to Psychodrome though.  This story is set just after Castrovalva, and much like Big Finish’s play The Elite did for us, it helps plug a gap we as fans had never realized required plugging.  Whereas there it addressed the end of Arc of Infinity and led us nicely into the team as we know them in Snakedance, here it addresses the fact that no-one really knows each other at this point in the TARDIS crew’s history, something never tackled on screen.  We have a Doctor who is getting to know himself and bond with his crew, an Adric who doesn’t know where he fits anymore, and then we have Tegan and Nyssa, cast away from their homes and with awful, painful losses behind them, still recent enough to sting afresh with each reminder.  Psychodrome throws us headfirst into adventure, of course, barely giving us time to pause for breath before the team are lost in caves which seem to shift and find themselves encountering monasteries for mathematicians, man-sized spiders who feed on blood, and explorers with no real sense of direction.

Jonathan Morris’s script is wonderful, letting the story breathe whilst never forgetting the time period in which it’s set continuity-wise and the privilege Big Finish affords both writers and actors, letting them develop characters in a manner never allowed on screen.  As is customary in these things, there is a twist of sorts, and I will confess that I has twigged it long before the characters in the script do, but none of that diminished the happy couple of hours I spent listening to this play.

Next up is the aforementioned Iterations of I by John Dorney, which I will state now was my favourite of the two plays.  Oozing with atmosphere and tension, Iterations gives us a spooky ghost story, set in Ireland during as raging storm where some mysterious thing is slowly killing people one by one.

Beautifully, the TARDIS crew are introduced here with a scene set inside the ship, with Nyssa and Adric trying to prove they can fly it and return Tegan to Heathrow.  It all feels so wonderfully normal, so in keeping with Season 19 and the tropes we associate with this team, and of course they land nowhere near Heathrow at all.  I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.  Before too long, the Doctor is right in the thick of it, learning about cults who believe God is a number, delving into the realm of higher mathematics, and casually batting away comedic barbs from Tegan.  Janet Fielding is on fire throughout this play, clearly relishing the script and oozing the material for every comedy beat she can, whilst Sarah Sutton is put in a rare position of fear and frailty, and as with the others has rarely been as good as she is here.  Again, it could be the fantastic script and Ken Bentley’s deft direction, or it could be the fact that the original TARDIS crew has been reunited: you certainly get an air of them enjoying being together and working with one another once again.  Whatever it is, I would say that this is the strongest Sutton has been since The Butcher of Brisbane and the story itself? It’s a masterclass in using the characters and their unique traits and working with that.

In fact, that goes for both stories.  They don’t forget that Adric is fantastic at maths, an outsider, and alien with the ability to heal quickly.  They remember that Nyssa has lost her whole planet and Tegan her aunt.  They tackle head on the breathless youth of the Fifth Doctor and how he’s finding his feet a bit.  And more than anything else, they do it with style and confidence.

When the Fourth Doctor joined the Big Finish fold, much was made by Big Finish about how they were trying to evoke the 1970s and that feel of watching the show on TV, and you know what? It didn’t work, because so often it felt like they were constrained by these boundaries and trying too hard to ape something that is long gone.  I should add, that doesn’t mean I haven’t enjoyed the Fourth Doctor Adventures, merely that I think they’re grown in strength as they have carried on, as they’ve gradually freed themselves from this idea that they have to be as they were and done their own thing instead.  Where this box set improves on things is that it doesn’t actively try to recreate the era and make a big fuss about it; it does so with ease and no fanfare at all.  It slots in perfectly whilst not trying to lavishly adhere to how things were and what would have been possible and shown.  It acknowledges how things were, it pays lip service to them, and then it tells brand new adventures that play with concepts and characters and set-ups.

So, there we are: the Doctor and Adric and Tegan and Nyssa once again, being their usual wonderful selves but perhaps even more so, perhaps even better than before.  It’s about as strong an introduction to a new/old set-up as we’ve ever been afforded and is an easy ten-out-of-ten affair for me.  Marvellous.

 

15 August 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Matt Fitton, Justin Richards, Ken Bentley, John Dorney

RRP: £35.00 (CD) / £30.00 (Download)

Release Date: August 2014

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 15th August 2014

The British government has created the Counter-Measures group, a specialist team that investigates strange phenomena and dangerous technology. This box set contains four of their adventures plus a behind-the-scenes documentary.

Changing of the Guard
Sir Toby fights for his career, while Counter-Measures leads a very different fight...

The Concrete Cage
Counter-Measures investigates strange events at a tower block under construction.

The Forgotten Village
A personal crisis for Allison turns into one of Counter-Measures' most dangerous assignments.

Unto the Breach
When footage emerges of an alien creature held in the Eastern Bloc, the team goes undercover to find it.”

***

Anyone who has read my review of The Assassination Games will know that I am rather fond of this spin-off series.  Plucking Allison, Rachel and Ian from the events of Remembrance of the Daleks and giving them their own series was perhaps a risk, but three series in, that edge of potential jeopardy is gone and you wonder instead why no-one saw the potential beforehand.

Three series in now, Big Finish seem happy enough to tweak the format slightly and give us something which is structurally perhaps more in line with Jago and Litefoot and Dark Eyes: the series’s story arc is more prevalent here than it ever has been before, ala Jago, whilst the entire thing feels at times more like the first instalment of something rather than a standalone affair, much as was the case with Dark Eyes 2 (and yet it is quite unlike that, for reasons I’ll go into later).  Whether or not that’s a good thing will depend, I suspect, on one’s views on those two series, and there is definitely an argument that what hasn’t been broken before maybe didn’t need to be fixed.  That said, it worked for me: I liked the risk it took and by the end of the fourth story in the set, I was very much on the edge, wanting more.

Let’s look at the stories in turn though, because much as I enjoyed the set overall, it’s safe to say that some episodes ranked higher for me than others.

We open with Changing of the Guard by Matt Fitton, a very capable pair of hands when it comes to scriptwriting in general and even more so when it comes to Counter-Measures.  This story has to serve two fronts: to mop up the debris of Series 2 and to set up the placement of the characters’ relationships for the rest of Series 3.  Fitton does this well with a script that takes full advantage of the 1960s setting with a tale of gangsters and ne’er-do-wells whilst counterpointing Sir Toby Kinsella’s duplicitous nature and string-pulling with the fact that he too is a puppet at times to higher powers.

Is it a perfect story? No.  There is a moment of utter stupidity for Allison that was frankly embarrassing in which she appears to forget seeing an object that the script brings painful attention to mere moments later when she sees a duplicate of it, and what should be a rousing and hard-hitting moment when Gilmore tries to round up some troops is left a bit icky and overly-sentimental as it’s reliant upon Gilmore narrating what’s going on: some things work better visually.

It’s a good opening though and leads us nicely to The Concrete Cage, the second tale in this box set and arguably the most standalone.  Written by Justin Richards, it is a ghost story that again uses the 1960s setting well, with post-war England trying to rebuild itself whilst shadows of the past loom large.  Sadly though, beyond using the era well, this episode did very little for me, with certain characters being oddly slow to reach what are fairly obvious solutions and, sadly, an air of predictability about it that renders potential surprises a bit dull.  What it most definitely does have in its favour though is a very solid guest performance from Michael Troughton as the brilliantly named Roderick Purton (Roderick Purton! Come on, that’s a great name) who manages to elevate what could be a rather nondescript and, again, predictable character with a predictable function far beyond its confines.

There was little else that really stood out for me in this story though.  Yes, the main cast’s rapport is as good as usual, but three series in now, that’s almost just expected from proceedings.  Thankfully though, things take an upswing with The Forgotten Village, the scriptwriting debut for Big Finish Productions by their go-to director Ken Bentley.  Ostensibly a character piece for Allison Williams, the story involves Allison being forced to return home to care for her sick father in his hour of need, despite her reluctance to and antipathy towards him.  So far, so usual perhaps, and certainly as the start of this episode, I found myself thinking, “Well, I can see where this one’s going...”

I was wrong though.  Potential old flames and happy reunions present themselves but Bentley is clever and knows Allison well enough to not make her do anything out of character.  We have the sprouts of clichés present themselves to us, but rather than fully blooming, Bentley subverts them.  It also gives us a truly surprising ending, something it has in common with the series finale, Unto the Breach by John Dorney.  This is probably the strongest use of the 1960s setting in Counter-Measures yet to my eyes and it reaps rewards accordingly.

Using the paranoia, cold harshness and mystery (to outsiders) of post-war Berlin as its starting point, Unto the Breach deals with the aftermath of The Forgotten Village on one hand whilst pushing other characters into truly dangerous situations with the other.  It’s become something of a cliché for press releases to describe stories or episodes as pushing ‘characters into places they have never been before’, but this story fully lives up to that hype.  Tense, clever, surprising and utterly nasty at times, Dorney ends the series on a real high and you do reach the end wondering how on earth Series 4 is going to resolve all that’s happening.  This is where it is simultaneously like and unlike Dark Eyes 2, as I alluded to earlier.  Both of them are the first instalments of something larger, but whilst a lot of Dark Eyes 2 perhaps felt like it was setting up all of which is to come, Counter-Measures 3 is less setting up than being that first episode of a two-part adventure.  I have a feeling that Series 4 will be less a standalone affair and more akin to Series 3b... but I’m fine with that.  If it can successfully build on all that has been started here and bring it to a satisfactory conclusion (no easy task) then I’ll be cheering.

It’s just a pity we have such a long time to wait before then! Time enough to watch Remembrance of the Daleks one more time and go back to where it all started, perhaps.

 

16 July 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: LM Myles, Mark Ravenhill, Una McCormack & Nev Fountain

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: July 2014

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 16th July 2014

Breaking Bubbles by LM Myles
The Doctor and Peri find themselves in the palatial gardens of the deposed Empress Safira Valtris where nothing is ever quite what it seems.

Of Chaos Time The by Mark Ravenhill
Cast adrift in his own chronology, the Doctor must avert the consequences of a catastrophic experiment in using time as a weapon of war.

An Eye For Murder by Una McCormack
The year is 1939, and a case of poison pen letters at St Ursula’s College threatens to change the course of the Second World War. Fortunately thriller writer Miss Sarah Perry is on hand to investigate...

The Curious Incident Of The Doctor In The Night-Time by Nev Fountain
Michael is a young boy who likes to solve mysteries, such as the mystery of the extra gnome, the mystery of the absent father, and the mystery of the strange man in yellow trousers at the bottom of the garden.

* * *
It’s that time of the year again, when Big Finish pauses for a bit in the run of trilogies and gives us one of its ‘4x1’ releases. Ever since the highs of Circular Time, these releases have become something to look forward to (in my eyes, at least). 1001 Nights and Recorded Time were both hits in my eyes, so I was looking forward to listening to this release.

The key to getting these sort of releases ‘right’, is in creating stories slight enough to fill up half an hour but with enough detail to not feel slight; to have a plot which doesn’t feel wasted by using it up in only one episode but is arresting enough to feel just right. Short episodes, like short stories, are an art form to get right, and thankfully, this release as a whole gets it right. Naturally, there are some stories I definitely preferred to others, some plots which arrested me more than others, but in terms of all being decently-crafted episodes, this CD ticks the boxes.

Given that it covers four separate stories, I’ll look at each of them in turn for this review.

First up, we get Breaking Bubbles itself, by LM Myles. I rather liked the way this tale manages to distill much of what is typical about Doctor Who into one episode, whilst also playing it. So, we get The Doctor and his companion separated, but they end up in part working against one another. We get a prisoner and escort tale, but neither of them are as black and white as is so often the case. Indeed, this theme of playing with perception proves to be the foundation of this play: who people appear to be and who they really are; actions they say they will take but may not.

The ending is perhaps a bit rushed, but no more than you would get if there were two episodes to play with. Myles has written a strong start to the overall release and an interesting tale in its own right.

Next up is the appropriately confusingly titled Of Chaos Time The by Mark Ravenhill. If Breaking Bubbles felt like it got things started quickly, Of Chaos Time The makes it look positively pedestrian in comparison. We literally hit the ground running, caught up midway through an adventure... as does The Doctor. Again, it’s a neat take on an old trope: starting the story when it’s already well underway, except this time the protagonist is every bit as confused as the listener. Long-time listeners of Big Finish release will see similarities to Creatures of Beauty here with its disjointed structure, but whilst that was a novelty, here it is integral to the tale itself: time is all cockahoop, and it’s up to The Doctor to make sense of it all.

Of all the stories on this release, this is perhaps the one that feels most like a radio drama, with lots of scenes where The Doctor narrates his thinking aloud and describes what he sees, something inevitable with audio drama but perhaps a bit limiting at times. It’s certainly the episode which I felt stretched its premise out the thinnest, but not to the stage where it outstays its welcome. Even so, it proved to be the weakest of the four stories for me, whilst the next was the best.

An Eye For Murder by Una McCormack is a wonderfully atmospheric tale of mystery, tension, mistaken identity and politic. Set in the outbreak of the Second World War at St Ursula’s College, Peri is mistaken for a writer of mysteries and before too long, she is embroiled in finding out who is responsible for a particularly nasty series of letters at a time when racial and political tensions are reaching a peak: if only her pesky assistant, The Doctor, can stay out of trouble and do his typing in peace...

Taking a more sedate pace than the previous two tales, McCormack is able to cover a lot in the thirty minutes afforded to her, from ideological disparity at a time of racial tension, to the role of women at a time when emancipation and Feminism were dirty terms, whilst also having a lot of fun with the idea of The Doctor and Peri being detectives. They fit into that mould with incredible ease, and to be perfectly honest, I would easily have just listened to them solve a mystery in a purely-historical context rather than having an alien influence (though that said, the fantastical twist is rather a nice one and slots into the background well). Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant are on top form throughout this, Bryant in particular relishing the material she is given, and the guest cast are as strong as the script. If you listen to just one story on this release, this is the one to go for.

We end with The Curious Incident Of The Doctor In The Night-Time by Nev Fountain, a story which wears its influence on its sleeve and manages to simultaneously evoke Mark Haddon’s fantastic novel whilst being its own thing. As with An Eye For Murder, in many ways I’d have easily enjoyed this without its Doctor Who trappings.  I mean, I know you couldn’t do the episode without The Doctor and Peri being in it, but when they do arrive, they perhaps slow the pace down somewhat, which is a shame. Whilst The Doctor is flitting around in the background without any lines or interaction with the main protagonist, I was arguably more engaged with the tale. As soon as they appear, things become a bit more sci-fi/fantasy: which, in all fairness, is as it should be, really.  The Doctor and Peri, travellers through space and time and oddity aplenty, crashing into the ordinary day of a family and making it extraordinary. It’s just arguably not as arresting once this happens. I was more invested when we were just learning about Michael, his family, and his coming to terms with important events in his life.

And then, just when I resigned to this as my overall feelings towards this episode, Nev Fountain gives us the final scene and completely slaughtered me emotionally.  Baker is absolutely mesmerizing and incredible in those final few moments, and the heart is truly... touched. It’s as beautiful an ending to a tale as you’re likely to find and ends up making this second half stronger than the first.

So, there we have it. Four stories of varying strengths and varying settings. The final two were, for my money, the real winners, but the opener is strong and even the weakest of the four has much to celebrate. More like this, please. A real treat.

16 July 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: LM Myles, Mark Ravenhill, Una McCormack & Nev Fountain

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: July 2014

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 16th July 2014

Breaking Bubbles by LM Myles
The Doctor and Peri find themselves in the palatial gardens of the deposed Empress Safira Valtris where nothing is ever quite what it seems.

Of Chaos Time The by Mark Ravenhill
Cast adrift in his own chronology, the Doctor must avert the consequences of a catastrophic experiment in using time as a weapon of war.

An Eye For Murder by Una McCormack
The year is 1939, and a case of poison pen letters at St Ursula’s College threatens to change the course of the Second World War. Fortunately thriller writer Miss Sarah Perry is on hand to investigate...

The Curious Incident Of The Doctor In The Night-Time by Nev Fountain
Michael is a young boy who likes to solve mysteries, such as the mystery of the extra gnome, the mystery of the absent father, and the mystery of the strange man in yellow trousers at the bottom of the garden.

* * *
It’s that time of the year again, when Big Finish pauses for a bit in the run of trilogies and gives us one of its ‘4x1’ releases. Ever since the highs of Circular Time, these releases have become something to look forward to (in my eyes, at least). 1001 Nights and Recorded Time were both hits in my eyes, so I was looking forward to listening to this release.

The key to getting these sort of releases ‘right’, is in creating stories slight enough to fill up half an hour but with enough detail to not feel slight; to have a plot which doesn’t feel wasted by using it up in only one episode but is arresting enough to feel just right. Short episodes, like short stories, are an art form to get right, and thankfully, this release as a whole gets it right. Naturally, there are some stories I definitely preferred to others, some plots which arrested me more than others, but in terms of all being decently-crafted episodes, this CD ticks the boxes.

Given that it covers four separate stories, I’ll look at each of them in turn for this review.

First up, we get Breaking Bubbles itself, by LM Myles. I rather liked the way this tale manages to distill much of what is typical about Doctor Who into one episode, whilst also playing it. So, we get The Doctor and his companion separated, but they end up in part working against one another. We get a prisoner and escort tale, but neither of them are as black and white as is so often the case. Indeed, this theme of playing with perception proves to be the foundation of this play: who people appear to be and who they really are; actions they say they will take but may not.

The ending is perhaps a bit rushed, but no more than you would get if there were two episodes to play with. Myles has written a strong start to the overall release and an interesting tale in its own right.

Next up is the appropriately confusingly titled Of Chaos Time The by Mark Ravenhill. If Breaking Bubbles felt like it got things started quickly, Of Chaos Time The makes it look positively pedestrian in comparison. We literally hit the ground running, caught up midway through an adventure... as does The Doctor. Again, it’s a neat take on an old trope: starting the story when it’s already well underway, except this time the protagonist is every bit as confused as the listener. Long-time listeners of Big Finish release will see similarities to Creatures of Beauty here with its disjointed structure, but whilst that was a novelty, here it is integral to the tale itself: time is all cockahoop, and it’s up to The Doctor to make sense of it all.

Of all the stories on this release, this is perhaps the one that feels most like a radio drama, with lots of scenes where The Doctor narrates his thinking aloud and describes what he sees, something inevitable with audio drama but perhaps a bit limiting at times. It’s certainly the episode which I felt stretched its premise out the thinnest, but not to the stage where it outstays its welcome. Even so, it proved to be the weakest of the four stories for me, whilst the next was the best.

An Eye For Murder by Una McCormack is a wonderfully atmospheric tale of mystery, tension, mistaken identity and politic. Set in the outbreak of the Second World War at St Ursula’s College, Peri is mistaken for a writer of mysteries and before too long, she is embroiled in finding out who is responsible for a particularly nasty series of letters at a time when racial and political tensions are reaching a peak: if only her pesky assistant, The Doctor, can stay out of trouble and do his typing in peace...

Taking a more sedate pace than the previous two tales, McCormack is able to cover a lot in the thirty minutes afforded to her, from ideological disparity at a time of racial tension, to the role of women at a time when emancipation and Feminism were dirty terms, whilst also having a lot of fun with the idea of The Doctor and Peri being detectives. They fit into that mould with incredible ease, and to be perfectly honest, I would easily have just listened to them solve a mystery in a purely-historical context rather than having an alien influence (though that said, the fantastical twist is rather a nice one and slots into the background well). Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant are on top form throughout this, Bryant in particular relishing the material she is given, and the guest cast are as strong as the script. If you listen to just one story on this release, this is the one to go for.

We end with The Curious Incident Of The Doctor In The Night-Time by Nev Fountain, a story which wears its influence on its sleeve and manages to simultaneously evoke Mark Haddon’s fantastic novel whilst being its own thing. As with An Eye For Murder, in many ways I’d have easily enjoyed this without its Doctor Who trappings.  I mean, I know you couldn’t do the episode without The Doctor and Peri being in it, but when they do arrive, they perhaps slow the pace down somewhat, which is a shame. Whilst The Doctor is flitting around in the background without any lines or interaction with the main protagonist, I was arguably more engaged with the tale. As soon as they appear, things become a bit more sci-fi/fantasy: which, in all fairness, is as it should be, really.  The Doctor and Peri, travellers through space and time and oddity aplenty, crashing into the ordinary day of a family and making it extraordinary. It’s just arguably not as arresting once this happens. I was more invested when we were just learning about Michael, his family, and his coming to terms with important events in his life.

And then, just when I resigned to this as my overall feelings towards this episode, Nev Fountain gives us the final scene and completely slaughtered me emotionally.  Baker is absolutely mesmerizing and incredible in those final few moments, and the heart is truly... touched. It’s as beautiful an ending to a tale as you’re likely to find and ends up making this second half stronger than the first.

So, there we have it. Four stories of varying strengths and varying settings. The final two were, for my money, the real winners, but the opener is strong and even the weakest of the four has much to celebrate. More like this, please. A real treat.

16 July 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Stephen Cole

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: June 2014

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 16th July 2014

France, the year 1770: by special invitation, the famous 'Doctor', friend of Voltaire, arrives at the lonely estate of the lovely Marquise de Rimdelle – once a hostess to the highest of high society, now isolated by the strange, pernicious mist that lingers round the countryside.

But there's more in that fog than mere vapour, confesses the Marquise's strange niece to the Doctor's ward, Nyssa. She senses some uncanny machine circling the fringes of the estate, in the space between the shadows. Watching. Always watching. She's given it a name: 'The Steamroller Man'.

Meanwhile, the man in the cellar talks to the Doctor; a dead man, trapped behind the cellar walls. The Steamroller Man is coming, he says; coming to smash the place down. It seems the Doctor has been drawn into a very dangerous liaison…

* * *
Before I even start this review, I want to note that it is going to contain spoilers, not just for this play but the other two in this recent Fifth Doctor/Nyssa trilogy also.  You have been warned!

The third in this most recent run of adventures for the Doctor and Nyssa sees them joined once again by Hannah Bartholomew, the latest TARDIS stray who we met at the start of this trilogy and surprised us all in the midway point (or did so to this listener at any rate).  Masquerade starts off with us all on the back foot. You rather feel like you’ve skipped past the first three-or-so tracks when you begin the tale: plenty of things are afoot, and it’s up to us to play catch up. It is quite a neat and refreshing move and gets the story off to a good start. One thing I really admired the play for was not doing the usual thing of keeping a twist to one side until the cliffhanger to the opening episode. Within a few minutes, you are aware that things are not all they appear to be: The Doctor is not acting like The Doctor, Nyssa is not acting like Nyssa, and no-one else seems quite right either. Stephen Cole doesn’t shy away from being bold and blatant in his set-up so early on, and, again, this is something to be applauded. It bucks the trend and gives us something pleasingly original instead of the same old story trotted out yet again. It’s the sort of thing Big Finish can do so well at times, so it was nice to have it here.

Sadly though, Masquerade never lives up to that opening burst of ingenuity and flair. The story that follows is fine (things remain not what they ought to be, people keep being not who they appear to be, the regulars carry on getting to have some good “There’s something wrong with my mind!” moments) but, ultimately, nowhere near as strong or interesting as the opening would have you believe, which is a pity. Even the main antagonist lacks the required stench of fear or bite to really make all the elements gel.

Crucially, for a tale which so neatly bucks the trend to begin with, things later on feel increasingly... familiar. Cole’s writing is fine enough, but there is too much that feels like we’ve seen it all before.  I had that a little bit with Tomb Ship last month, being able to directly compare like-for-like that story to another Fifth Doctor one, and whilst that isn’t the case here, you can still see the numbers beneath the drying paint, sadly.

Even the very ending can be seen coming, and what happens next (as in, in future releases)... well, sadly I can imagine. I can imagine that there is a clear ending here but that, as with Hex and Flip and Charley and, arguably, even Nyssa, Big Finish won’t stop. Because the ending here clearly signals the end of Hannah. But will it be? I doubt it somehow.

The very ending feels rather rushed, as if it’s missing a TARDIS scene to tie things up, which perhaps gives the impression more of a pause before Hannah returns in some guise than a full stop, which it should be for the story to make any sense at all. It feels like Hannah was never intended to reappear beyond Moonflesh and now Big Finish are uncertain what to do with her: do they kill her off? (Yes, sort of.) Do they keep the doors open? (Maybe: explains the way the tale just... ends without any sense of closure.) Or does it reflect Hannah being a very late addition, so they can dispose of her character without any grand gesture, as if she were just an additional cast member in this story only? (Possibly.)

I don’t know what happens next.  Maybe Hannah will return. Oddly, I think they need to tie up the ending here in some way, but I would rather see her staying put. An acknowledgement of her fate perhaps hanging over The Doctor and Nyssa in their next adventure before carrying on afresh? I think this would work better than the alternative, which is having her come back and making a nonsense of this story’s plot. I guess we will see.

What I do know is that this speculation is perhaps more enjoyable to engage in than listening to Masquerade was. Heck, the fact the original CD pressing and download were missing about five seconds’ worth of dialogue created more drama than you get for the most part in this play.

A series of diminishing returns, I hope the next Fifth Doctor and Nyssa trilogy glows brighter.

28 June 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Gordon Rennie and Emma Beeby

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: May 2013

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: June 2014

“The TARDIS brings the Doctor and Nyssa to a vast pyramid, floating in space. A tomb ship – the last resting place of the God-King of the Arrit, an incredibly advanced and incredibly ancient civilisation, long since extinct.

They’re not alone, however. Another old dynasty walks its twisted, trap-ridden passages – a family of tomb raiders led by a fanatical matriarch, whose many sons and daughters have been tutored in tales of the God-King’s lost treasure.

But those who seek the God-King will find death in their shadow. Death from below. Death from above. Death moving them back and forward, turning their own hearts against them.

Because only the dead will survive.”

Have you ever read The Ultimate Treasure? You’ll love it.  It was the first Past Doctor Adventure novel from BBC Books to feature the Fifth Doctor.  It had him alone with a female companion (Peri), was peppered with references to other stories (Kamelion here, hinting at a forthcoming explanation about celery-wearing there) and involved a group of less-than-morally-pure people trying to seek out an incredible reward, that perhaps isn’t quite the treasure they originally supposed it to be, by going through a series of quests that not everyone will survive.

On a completely different note, have you ever listened to Tomb Ship? You’ll love it.  It was the second main range release in a 2014 trilogy of stories to feature the Fifth Doctor.  It had him alone with a female companion (Nyssa), was peppered with references to other stories (Wirrn here, the HADS there) and involved a group of less-than-morally-pure people trying to seek out an incredible reward, that perhaps isn’t quite the treasure they originally supposed it to be, by going through a series of quests that not everyone will survive.

Pity the Fifth Doctor: he obviously stumbles upon these sort of set-ups.  He is fortunate though in that they are both good stories with just about enough differences to elevate it above the repetitive and continual comparisons.  I was expecting something enjoyable as I’ve liked all of Gordon Rennie and Emma Beeby’s releases before, and in that respect, I was not disappointed.  Nor was I upset by developments that took place from last month’s release, Moonflesh, which perhaps flies in the face of my claim that having standalone adventure was refreshing! The developments here, however, do not feel crowbarred in or forced, and I’m looking forward to seeing what sort of resolution we get next month in Masquerade.

Where I felt this release was perhaps not as good as The Ultimate Treasure (he said, comparing again) is that the characters weren’t as stand-out, nor were the perils as well-drawn or interesting.  I don’t feel you ever get invested in any of the characters there, or feel any real threat or tension for them, which makes the central premise diluted somewhat and lacking the edge it should have.

Where this release scores major points is in good, solid writing for the three regulars (he said, not wanting to give too much away) and a very fun ending.  And, sure, we may have been in this territory before, but Tomb Ship is enjoyable enough to keep you listening and engaged across its four episodes.  I hesitate to describe it as another ‘good, solid episode of Doctor Who’, as repeating that mantra over and over raises questions of it own: namely, what makes a good, solid episode of this most eclectic of shows, and I’ll readily confess that I didn’t enjoy it as much as others, nor as much as what Rennie and Beeby have written before, but it was fun enough all the same.  Even if we have enjoyed it before elsewhere.

28 June 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Mark Morris

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: April 2013

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: June 2014

“One wouldn't normally expect to find elephants, gorillas and rhinoceroses roaming free in Suffolk in the year 1911. One wouldn't normally expect to find an extra-dimensional police box at the same time/space location either. Two aliens, named the Doctor and Nyssa, exit said box, only to find themselves pursued by a hungry lioness – for they've landed in the private hunting grounds of the famous explorer Nathaniel Whitlock, who's brought together a motley group of friends and acquaintances for a weekend's shooting.

But one of Whitlock's guests isn't all they seem. One of them wants the secrets of the Moonflesh, the mystic mineral looked after by Whitlock's retainer, a Native American known as Silver Crow. Because the Moonflesh is reputed to have the power to call down spirits from another realm…

…and soon, the hunters will become the hunted.”

For whatever reason, I was put off listening to this play for quite a while.  Have I been busy? Yes, but not enough to justify the delay.  Do I like the Doctor/Companion combination? Very much so: Davison is one of the best doctors we’ve ever had.  So, what was it? I couldn’t say.  The slightly drab cover art? The premise, which did little for me? The fact it followed the events of last month’s Flip finale, which so… irked me? Maybe a bit of everything.

I do know, though, that I enjoyed Moonflesh a lot, perhaps because it stood in such contrast to some of Big Finish’s recent trilogies.  It feels completely standalone and devoid of the shackles and gimmickry of recent times, which is oddly refreshing.  It feels strange to say that, as historically Doctor Who does standalone more often than not, but with Big Finish increasingly linking releases and the wide and sweeping arcs we see on screen more often than not nowadays, having a standalone adventure is something that really pleased me.

The story concerns a big-game hunt, as mysterious stone, and a whole host of characters plucked from days of yore, extras in Black Orchid and adventure novels.  Things move along at a cracking pace, and true to form, everything that seems to be being set-up in the opening instalment of this tale is turned on its head by the cliffhanger and leads us into new territory.  Whether you prefer what comes next is a matter of personal preference, but for my money, it was a pretty solid adventure.  There is a lot going on here, from the rise of Feminism to the morality of hunting, from spiritualism to alien goings on, but Mark Morris balances it all rather well, with none of the elements becoming overbearing.

I was especially impressed with his supporting characters in the main.  The play stumbles slightly when dealing with Silver Crow, a character that comes perilously close to being a bit too stock-friendly-and-wise-native for my liking, but punches high with everyone else, especially Hannah Bartholomew, who feels like an older and wiser Charley Pollard in some ways but with a darker sense of morality, and the Whitlocks, who are very well drawn.

Morris has good form with regards to writing for Big Finish, with House of Blue Fire standing out especially strong, and also tackled Nyssa and the Fifth Doctor before in Stockbridge with Plague of the Daleks, and this is a stronger affair than the latter, whilst being not quite as good as the former.  What it is though is a very strong start to the trilogy and hopefully the sign of some more standalone and largely arc-free releases.  I do like the arcs when done well, but as I said in my review of Scavenger, they can at times lend themselves to having their cake and eating it.  There is none of that on display here, and the play is all the better for it.  Is it the greatest story ever told? No, but it’s a solid slice of adventure and, accordingly, I can’t imagine I’ll be holding off listening to Tomb Ship when it arrives for as long as I held off listening to this.

28 June 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: William Gallagher

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: March 2013

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: June 2014

“Thursday 28 May 2071: the day the Anglo-Indian Salvage 2 rocket launches. Its mission: to clean up space; to remove from Earth’s orbit over a century’s worth of man-made junk…

From the viewing window of a nearby space station, the Doctor and Flip have a unique view of Salvage 2 as it sets about its essential task – and of the disaster that unfolds when Salvage 2 encounters something it’s not been programmed to deal with. Something not of human manufacture…

Back on Earth, the Doctor fights to save Flip from becoming part of a 500-year tragedy being played out in orbit, hundreds of miles above. And millions will die if he fails.”

****

So, here we are: the end of this current run of adventures for the Sixth Doctor and Flip, and what better way to end things by blasting off into space?

Inevitably, a lot of the previews of this play have muttered about the similarities to Gravity, which has had the downright cheek to do rather well in the Oscars around the same time this play has been released.  Both stories are set in space and involve missions going awry, but the similarities end there and the two stand very much alone after this. (Oh, and for the record, Gravity is the better of the two. Sorry, Scavenger.)

There are some things definitely worth highlighting about this play.  To begin with, it is by a long shot William Gallagher’s best script for Big Finish yet.  I was extremely impressed by the way he manages to take two characters at the start (Salim and Jessica Allaway) and transform them steadily over the course of four episodes from being very, very irritating and speaking almost entirely in soundbites with no hint of natural dialogue, to two very intriguing characters with a lot of heart behind them and added dimension.  In many ways, they represent the very best this tale has to offer: two characters starting out bland and developing well as the story carries on.  In the grand scheme of things, it’s a rare Doctor Who story indeed that pulls that off successfully.

On a similar note, the story has a truly brilliant Part Two, improving a lot on the opening instalment and really giving us a lot of energy, tension and plot.  It’s the best half an hour this story has, but that’s no bad thing given how strong it is.

It sadly falls down a little after this, relying on a few slightly old and familiar tropes and steadily wasting the character of Jyoti Cutler, a character so integral to the opening, played with a slightly variable accent by Anjli Monhindra (the rather wonderful Rani from the rather wonderful Sarah Jane Adventures).  However, its main problems lie not with the story itself but in the wider arc and plans that Big Finish apparently have afoot.  I should stress here that major spoilers are coming up, not just for this story but others from Big Finish’s main range of plays, so read on at your peril and don’t complain that you were not warned.

So.

Anyone keeping abreast of the ongoing Hex saga will be aware that Big Finish are increasingly reluctant to finish a character’s story, which is sadly to the detriment of the character themselves.  In short, it’s hard to invest in the build-up to a character’s farewell when the rug is continually pulled from under one’s feet.  Big Finish just about– just about– got away with it with Charley Pollard, but with Hex and now, in a way, Flip, it’s starting to get silly.  Because a lot of this trilogy has been building up to her departure, really, and setting up the start of a new trilogy of adventures with the Sixth Doctor and Peri, but at the last minute... we get none of this.  Instead, we are left with a cliffhanger ending, which is fun in some ways, but frustratingly in others.  Is Flip dead? No.  I mean, it’s not stated, but let’s face it, she won’t be, because that’s an ending and Big Finish aren’t so keen on those at present.  What it means is that we are going to have to twiddle our thumbs somewhat and wait for at least a year before anything is resolved, and in the meantime, the Sixth Doctor and Peri trilogy that has been built up will come and go (probably with a lack of definite resolution there, too) and then have another trilogy of adventures with Sixie and Flip and have to hope for a conclusion there, and if not that, then no hint that such a conclusion will be forthcoming.  Have it like Mary Shelley, where we know things come to an end, but there is no sign of that any time soon and an open ending looking to the future instead.  Do not build up to a departure and then not do it at the very last minute.  It’s just frustrating.

As for the play itself? It suffers from increasingly relying on cliché, but has enough sparkle about it and some good and, contrary to the plot, increasingly well-written supporting characters to recommend it.  Mainly though, it suffers from being part of this wider problem with lack of resolution, and in the end, that has dragged my rating of it down somewhat, which is unfortunate.

There’s teasing, there’s misdirection, there’s twists, and then there is having your cake and eating it, and I’m sorry Big Finish, I really am, but I for one am stuffed.

23 April 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Simon Guerrier

RRP: £8.99 (CD) / £7.99 (Download)

Release Date: April 2014

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 23rd April 2014

Years after he gave up travelling in the TARDIS, Steven Taylor is the deposed king of a distant world.

From the confines of his cell, he shares his story with a young girl called Sida.

And one story in particular – a visit to a whole world at war, which will mark Steven for life…

* * *
Steven Taylor’s life after leaving The Doctor in The Savages has been explored very little in Doctor Who spin-off media. In this newest release of The Companion Chronicles, we not only get to see what has become of Steven but how a certain adventure in his past helped him to get there.

The War To End All Wars is an interesting story of a damaged society trapped in constant battle and though the twist of what is actually happening is not exactly original it is how it relates to the framing story of the older Steven that gives it more power. 

Things haven’t gone too well for Steven. Now a deposed ruler, he sits in his prison cell with his books pondering over the society that he stayed behind to help many years ago.

This older Steven is much wiser than his younger counterpart and his reflections on power and the use and abuse on it really do make up the heart of this story. 

Simon Guerrier’s script is very good and is given vivid life by the brilliance of Peter Purves. The Companion Chronicles have been a excellent showcase for this very talented actor who has over the course of many stories breathed new life into a character he first played in 1965. The Doctor appears very little in this release so it allows us to see more of Steven when not guided by him.

The main story despite some predictable elements is a cracking little yarn but I found myself being attracted much more to the framing narrative between Steven and his young companion Sida played very well by Alice Haig. As Steven tells us about what happened to him on Comfort, we get little hints from Sida that things are much worse in Steven’s present than they ever were in his past.

There is a new story just beginning as this one closes and knowing that The Companion Chronicles are soon to be at an end this is rather sad. I would certainly like to see where the threads started here would lead to as I am very much interested in hearing about the future of Steven Taylor.

23 April 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Nicholas Briggs

RRP: £10.99 (CD) / £8.99 (Download)

Release Date: April 2014

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 23rd April 2014

The TARDIS lands in the cargo hold of luxury space cruiser the Moray Rose. The crew and passengers are missing. The agents of Inter-Galaxy Insurance are determined to find out what’s happened and the shadowy Interplanetary Police Inspector Efendi is showing a very particular interest.

Caught up in all this, the Doctor and Leela find themselves facing a horde of metal mantis-like aliens. But throughout it all, Leela is haunted by terrible nightmares and the dawning realization that everything she knows about her life is a lie.

* * *
The Master, that dastardly arch nemesis of our favourite Time Lord returns in the latest release of Season Three of The Fourth Doctor Adventures

The Evil One is essentially and unashamedly an elaborate revenge tale. Using the companion as his weapon to kill The Doctor is a believable course of action for The Master, and it develops at a rather cracking pace. Supporting characters are introduced and discarded rather quickly, but the focus always remains on the brain washed Leela hunting The Doctor.

A considerable atmosphere of foreboding is introduced very early on as Leela is plagued by strange dreams, false memories and hallucinations. It pays off in a clever little cliff-hanger that pays homage to Leela’s first television story The Face of Evil. Prior knowledge of that story is not necessarily required to listen to The Evil One, but it certainly makes a lot of the references more enjoyable.

The great revelation of this story is the exploration of some of Leela’s past.

The final scene between The Doctor and Leela is beautifully written and played to perfection by the leads. Tom Baker and Louise Jameson really do cement their Doctor/Companion relationship with this scene. The joy of their reunion since the start of The Fourth Doctor Adventures is watching how gradually the writers are opening up the character’s relationship and here Briggs really expands it with wonderful results.

Geoffrey Beevers is a deliciously evil as The Master, refining his very silky interpretation of the character with each of his Big Finish appearances. His Master is very well suited to Baker’s Doctor, just as Delgado was to Pertwee and Ainley to Davison.

The supporting cast is made up of Gareth Armstrong as Arthley and Blake’s 7's very own Michael Keating as Calvert. Arthley is a thinly sketched character whereas Calvert has much more to do and has some excellent scenes with Tom Baker.

The Evil One is a great little story from Nicholas Briggs whose excellent script and tight direction make this a very enjoyable and surprisingly moving story.

10 March 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Andrew Smith

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: February 2013

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 10th March 2014

“Space travellers are warned to keep away from the area of the planet Asphya and its unremarkable moon Erys. Not the best place to materialise the TARDIS, then – as the Doctor discovers when his ship is raided by the imp-like Drachee, and his companion Flip is carried away…

But the TARDIS isn’t the only stricken vessel in the region. Aboard a nearby space yacht, the Doctor encounters a woman who holds in her head the secret of Erys – a secret suppressed by amnesia, or worse.

Flip, too, is about to learn Erys’ secret. But once you know Erys’ secret, you can never escape.”

* * *
Andrew Smith and Big Finish are rapidly becoming closely associated with one another, and it is easy enough to see why with a play like The Brood of Erys.  It has a colourful cast with some pleasingly odd voices, a solid pace and ending which sets up things to come, a story which is at once nice and evocative of past stories whilst also being firmly grounded in ‘the now’, and lots of action set pieces which place the companion in the centre of things: DWM would have had a field day drawing Flip plummeting through space back when they used to paint previews of the monthly releases.

Despite all this though, the adventure lacked a certain spark for me.  It’s certainly a world away from the heights of The First Sontarans and the imagination of Vengeance of the Stones, Smith’s contributions to The Lost Stories and Destiny of the Doctors ranges respectively.  Perhaps oddly, given his first script for Big Finish was set in E-Space, this feels more like Full Circle than any of his post-TV scripts have so far.  Now, that’s not a bad thing at all: Full Circle is not a bad story or script at all, and if you ever get the chance to read Smith’s novelisation of it, then I recommend you do so: it’s lovingly written and oozes imagination, wonder at even getting to write it, and genuine enthusiasm.  I had that feeling when listening to The First Sontarans, too, but there was something about The Brood of Erys which missed the spot for me.  Perhaps it’s because a lot of it felt very... familiar.  Not just to other scripts Smith has written, but in general.  It doesn’t break any new ground, and whilst not every Doctor Who script has to of course, it would have been nice to see it done so here all the same.  It feels like there is a better story hidden in there somewhere.

It feels like I am being rather down on The Brood of Erys and I do not wish to be.  There are other stories out there which deserve that sort of derision, and this story most definitely is not one.  Let’s focus on positives instead, namely the leads.  Colin Baker is forever brilliant as The Doctor (twelve times now they’ve cast the lead role - well, thirteen if we want to throw in John Hurt, and seeing how great he was, I reckon we should– and twelve/thirteen times now they’ve got it so very, very right) and here is no exception.  He sounds like he’s having fun throughout, which in turn makes for a more enjoyable listen, even if the material isn’t the greatest he’s ever had.  Likewise, Lisa Greenwood as Flip is strong.  As a companion, I don’t think she’s ever going to make a real dent for me as Flip is a bit too... generic to really do much.  Greenwood, however, is a different story.  As with Baker, you get the sense that she really wants to be there, acting and playing along.  It makes a real difference and helps Flip stand a bit stronger.  She is a far better actor than her character, though.

All the signs are pointing to an end of an era though, not just for the trilogy but in a wider sense, so it’ll be interesting to see what the third main range release of 2014 has in store for The Sixth Doctor and Flip, and whilst this was definitely better than the rather tedious Antidote to Oblivion, which committed the cardinal sin for any Doctor Who story in that it was really rather boring, I hope that it ends with a tale a little less serviceable than The Brood of Erys was at times.  All that said though, a script by Andrew Smith is always well worth listening to, so I do genuinely look forward to what he comes up with next.



Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 10th March 2014

After last month’s slightly disappointing Antidote to Oblivion, The Sixth Doctor triliogy picks up with the rather enjoyable The Brood Of Erys.

Andrew Smith is a familiar name to Doctor Who fans having penned the first part of the E-Space Trilogy Full Circle. In The Brood of Erys, Smith deals with some very interesting science fiction ideas but the story towards the end does tend to delve somewhat into sentimentality.

The story deals with the concept of a sentient planet, breeding its own offspring to not only protect it but to follow it’s every command. This is very interesting and is one of the plot lines which keep your attention throughout. The story builds up its mysteries rather strongly throughout the first three episodes but it is only in the last half of episode four that it turns into more of a dysfunctional family drama. I will not give away what happens but for me it was too much of a sudden change of direction in what had been a fascinating and rather dark story.

The cast is one of the strongest aspects of this release with Colin Baker charging full steam ahead in a superb performance as The Doctor. Despite my misgivings about the sentimental ending of the story, Baker brings great subtlety to the dialogue. He truly is a masterful actor, and he has made his Doctor something very special over the years at Big Finish.

Lisa Greenwood gets a lot more to do as Flip in this story, and Greenwood goes for it with gusto. Flip is certainly one of the best foils The Sixth Doctor has had and it remains to be seen if the character’s recklessness in dangerous situations will have dire consequences in the future.

 With a brilliant supporting cast that includes Nicola Sian, better known to us as Clara’s mother and Brian Shelley as Erys, this play has a lot of great talent throughout.

At times comical and serious The Brood of Erys is a very interesting slice of Doctor Who and worth checking out.



26 February 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Alan Barnes

RRP: £10.99 (CD) / £8.99 (Download)

Release Date: February 2014

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 26th February 2014

A close encounter with a stray missile leads the Doctor to materialise his TARDIS on a planet that hangs in the dark at the edge of the known universe. A planet so dark that it exists in near-permanent night. A planet that enjoys just a single day’s light once every thousand years…

Exactly what happens on the planet in its rare daylight hours – that’s what a geographical survey headed by Senior Tutor Bengel is stationed here to establish. They, the Doctor and Leela are about to discover that when daylight comes, the White Ghosts rise…

* * *
At the conclusion of last month’s The King of Sontar, The Doctor and Leela had reached a crisis in their relationship. Shocked by her actions, The Doctor felt that it may be time he and Leela were to go their separate ways. Thankfully this does not happen and their adventures continue in this second release for the third season of The Fourth Doctor Adventures.

White Ghosts is that classic of Doctor Who scenarios; the base under siege story, and while there are lovely ideas throughout, it feels let down by its slightly rushed ending.

The main character in this particular story to me is more Leela than The Doctor. The falling out between The Doctor and Leela in The King of Sontar is resolved rather quickly, which is disappointing as I would’ve liked to have seen it continue a bit longer in future stories. Thankfully though the ramifications are not so quickly swept under the carpet and it does inform our two main characters throughout the story.

I like how writer Alan Barnes continues to show the development of Leela, as she has now taught herself to read and uses a book - in this case, one of English fairy tales to make comparisons between it and the events around her. It makes for some lovely metaphors when Leela assesses the danger of the situation the characters in the story are in.

Leela is at the centre of an inspired moment in the story, where we get to see inside her head as she goes into battle. The moment feels like it is from a Companion Chronicle but it helps the scene not only from an audio drama point of view but lets us more inside the character of Leela. It is a stand out moment and one I hope Big Finish use again in future stories.

The cast is very good, especially guest star Virginia Hey (of Farscape fame) putting in an excellent performance as Senior Tutor Bengal. Tom Baker is still as delightfully eccentric as The Doctor and there are some nice supporting characters played by Bethan Walker, James Joyce and Gbemisola Ikumelo respectively.

I like the idea of the Time Lords still using The Doctor to do their dirty work and his dilemma at the end of the story echoes Leela’s previous actions in The King of Sontar. This may prove to be one of the season’s running plot arcs and I hope we see it reappear again.

The story does have an excellent build up but the ending feels rushed especially with the sudden addition of another antagonist from out of nowhere. It makes sense as a creepy addition to the story, but with the constraints of two episodes it feels tacked on somewhat.

I put this down less to the writing but more to the constraints of the two part format, as this story could’ve used at least one more episode to make that conclusion more believable.

White Ghosts is still an entertaining story with some excellent development for our two heroes.

26 February 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Ian Potter

RRP: £8.99 (CD) / £7.99 (Download)

Release Date: February 2014

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 26th February 2014

After travelling with the Doctor through time and space, Ian Chesterton is back in his own time. But the mystery of how he and Barbara Wright disappeared in the year 1963 has alerted the authorities – and both are suspected of being enemy agents in the Cold War.

Ian protests his innocence. He has a story to tell about travelling through time and space.

And one adventure in particular – a visit to the city of Hisk…

* * *
A Companion Chronicle with William Russell is always going to be worth my attention but this time around I found the experience to be an underwhelming affair.

At first The Sleeping City feels like it is going to be an exclusively two hand piece performed by William Russell and guest star John Banks. Sadly it only turns out to be a framework for the main story narrated by Russell.

The strongest part of the audio is the framework element as I found the idea of Ian and Barbara being interrogated about their disappearance and the whereabouts of Susan to be far more interesting than the actual story. The audio then cuts at certain moments for the two main characters to comment upon what is happening, and once again these exchanges are by far the most interesting thing about it.

That is not to say main story is bad, not at all, The Sleeping City has some intriguing ideas and is certainly a nice piece of nostalgia for lovers of the Hartnell era. William Russell gives a very good reading but I found the tale personally not very engaging.

The Sleeping City is an intriguing premise but it ultimately feels let down by its ending. Understated though it is, it plays with the notion that John Banks' character Gerrard knows a lot more than he is letting on but the reveal is still a little disappointing.

It does have its moments but overall The Sleeping City is not one of the strongest stories in the Companion Chronicles range.

17 February 2014
 Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Nicholas Briggs, Alan Barnes & Matt Fitton

RRP: £20.00 (CD) / £20.00 (Download)

Release Date: February 2014

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 17th February 2014

When the Doctor defeated the Dalek Time Controller and its Time Lord ally, the timelines shifted and events changed... but the danger is far from over. And new threats to the continued safety of the universe are emerging.

Molly O'Sullivan carried on with her life as a nursing assistant in World War One. She probably thought she would never see the Doctor in his 'Tardy-box' again...

From the Dalek occupied planet Nixyce VII through Earth's history and to the very edge of the universe, the Doctor's footprints across eternity are being tracked by foes old and new. But when did it all begin and when will it end? Living his life through the complexities of time travel, the Doctor can never be quite sure if he's experiencing his life in the most helpful order. The only certainty appears to be the advance of the powers of evil and the oncoming threat of a fight to the death against forces that would destroy everything the Doctor holds dear.

* * *

This really is a great period for The Eighth Doctor. After the huge success of the first award winning Dark Eyes, Paul McGann returned to the role of The Doctor in the extremely well-received Night of the Doctor. His brief but perfect performance got many fans unfamiliar with his portrayal very curious. 

Who was this mysterious Doctor who had previously had only one television adventure? And just who were those companions he listed off before turning into John Hurt?

Interest in The Eighth Doctor was at an all time high and Big Finish must have been leaping for joy, for not only being made cannon but I’m sure an increased interest in their excellent output by new listeners.

So it makes me doubly happy to say that the joyous wave for Paul McGann gets even higher with the release of Dark Eyes 2, a brilliant collection of stories that continues to push The Eighth Doctor into new and exciting territory.

Following a non-linear narrative told over 4 parts, Dark Eyes 2 excels in great storytelling and excellent characterisation. Knowledge of the previous Dark Eyes is essential as in some aspects of the main narrative it explicitly harks back to that story. 

But Dark Eyes 2 thankfully does not bog itself down too much in continuity as these linked stories are cracking tales in their own right.

Nicholas Briggs, who held sole writing duties on the first Dark Eyes only takes the first part whilst handing over writing duties of the rest to Alan Barnes and Matt Fitton

I shall not to go too much in depth into the storyline as there is so much to enjoy here and far too many surprises. What I can talk about is the fascinating story thread of the character of The Doctor.

The writers have really taken on board the direction of The Eighth Doctor as being the reluctant warrior. Whilst his previous incarnation had been the grand manipulator who had made difficult choices for the greater good, The Eighth Doctor makes them out of reluctance. He has seen so much death, the aftermath of which was explored in the first Dark Eyes, and he just wants to help make a difference to the universe without having to sacrifice anymore of those he cares about. It is a fascinating direction for a character that started out as a more romantic type. In light of what happens to the character in Night of the Doctor, the course taken here in Dark Eyes 2 is perfectly in line with The Eighth’s Doctor’s eventual fate. 

The performances from the main cast are excellent. Paul McGann is fantastic once again in the role and he really develops his performance throughout the stories.

Ruth Bradley makes a very welcome return as Molly O’ Sullivan joined by the excellent Nicola Walker as Liv Chenka, a character first seen in Nicholas Briggs' sublime Robophobia. Both characters are brilliant foils for the Doctor in different ways, and both have their own different experiences of The Doctor in the Dark Eyes 2 which creates some excellent dramatic tension and a unique perspective throughout. Nicholas Briggs steps behind the microphone not only as The Daleks but the delightfully devious Dalek Time Controller making a return appearance after the dramatic conclusion to the first Dark Eyes.

In a series of stories with returning characters, one of the sheer highlights is Alex Macqueen returning as the Master, a role he made completely his own in the excellent UNIT: Dominion.

It is difficult to find any fault with Dark Eyes 2, as a lot of steps have been taken to ensure this has all the quality of its predecessor but pushing it in new and tantalizing directions. 

With a superb cliff-hanger to conclude it, this reviewer cannot wait for Dark Eyes 3.

31 January 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Matt Fitton

RRP: £12.99 (CD) / £9.99 (Download)

Release Date: January 2014

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 31st January 2014

The search for the final segment of the Key to Time takes the Doctor and the First Romana to Ancient Rome. The Time Lady is appalled when her companion prefers to watch the latest Plautus comedy rather than complete their mission, and is even less delighted to meet the playwright himself.

But all is not what it seems, either onstage or behind the scenes…

In the far, far future, the Second Romana is destined to have her own encounter with a legacy of Rome, but Stoyn has been waiting. And his actions will set Romana on a collision course with her own past.

Quadrigger Stoyn wants his final revenge on the Doctor, and only Romana stands in his way.

Both of her.

* * *

The Stoyn trilogy comes to a close in the first Companion Chronicle of the year, and despite great ambition the story doesn’t feel quite as strong a finale as perhaps it could’ve been.

Luna Romana was originally written to have included Mary Tamm, but in light of Tamm’s recent passing, the story was rewritten. Tamm’s part is taken by Juliet Landau who portrays a future incarnation of Romana who first appeared in the spin off series Gallifrey VI. Landau proceeds to tell her side of the story as a recollection of her time as the first Romana during the events of the Key to Time.

Landau’s performance is certainly lovely but not as full of gusto as Lalla Ward when she takes over narration during the second episode. Indeed Lalla’s narration is perhaps the strongest part of this release and although Landau does a fine job, you really do begin to miss Mary Tamm’s presence. It would have been lovely to see a more authentic comparison between both incarnations of the character would’ve been fascinating but sadly of course this was not to be.

The Stoyn trilogy has been of a mixed run of stories for me personally. I found overall The Beginning by Marc Platt to be the strongest of the trilogy. The character is still played wonderfully by Terry Molloy but he does seem an odd choice of antagonist for a run of stories set to celebrate the 50th anniversary. Indeed the character’s resolution is rather horrible considering that the poor man was taken out of time by the criminal actions of the Doctor. 

Four episodes seems rather too much for this story as there are moments which can be quite easily written off as padding. This is a shame as there are some great ideas in the story but I personally think that it would’ve benefitted as a two parter, with the narrative intercutting between both Romanas throughout.

Whatever the story‘s faults, what cannot be overlooked are the very touching moments when it pays tribute to the first Romana and the legacy of Mary Tamm. Her contribution to the character and her contribution to Big Finish before her were tremendous and it is good to see it recognised here, and Juliet Landau delivers the closing lines with real compassion.

Luna Romana is an interesting but not entirely satisfying conclusion to an unusual trilogy of stories. 

E-Mail NewsE-Mail Reviews
RSS Feed
News Key
News Home
General
The New Series
The Classic Series
Spinoffs
Merchandise
Site
Blog Entries
Reviews Key
Reviews Home
Books / Magazines
DVD / Blu-ray
Audio
Toys / Other
TV Episodes
Search
Advertisements
iWho - The Doctor Who App!
Super Loot